Beginnings as Bechstein Hall
Wigmore Hall was built in 1901 by the German piano firm Bechstein next to its showrooms on Wigmore Street. The Hall was intended to be grandly impressive while remaining intimate enough for recitals.
Originally called Bechstein Hall, it opened with two gala concerts on 31 May and 1 June 1901, featuring the Italian pianist Ferruccio Busoni, the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, the Ukrainian pianist Vladimir de Pachmann and several others.
The Hall was designed by the English architect Thomas Collcutt, FRIBA (1840-1924) in Renaissance style, using alabaster and marble for the walls, flooring and stairway. Collcutt was one of the most distinguished architects of his day and his diverse body of work embraced the design of the public rooms in more than a dozen P&O liners.
The outbreak of war in 1914 brought hostility to German firms in London. Even Nellie Melba was criticised when she sang Land of Hope and Glory to an accompaniment on a German-made Bechstein.
In 1916, the entire business — including studios, offices, warehouses, 137 pianos and the Hall itself — was sold to Debenhams for £56, 500. The Hall alone had cost £100, 000 to build.
Past and Present Performers
In its early years Wigmore Hall featured many remarkable performers. Artur Schnabel, at the age of 22, played a recital so successful that a second was hastily arranged; composers Ravel, Fauré, Saint-Saëns, Skryabin, Hahn and Grainger appeared; Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso sang; 27-year-old Thomas Beecham gave his first concert; Artur Rubinstein played, and at his farewell recital at the Hall many years later urged his audience to 'keep coming back to this wonderful Hall'
Prokofiev, Poulenc and Hindemith appeared, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears gave recitals, and many of Britten's most significant chamber and vocal works were given their first performances at the Hall; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf sang, Jacqueline du Pré played the cello; the Amadeus Quartet gave many memorable concerts.
With its celebrated acoustic, continuity of staff and famously knowledgeable audience, the Hall continues to attract the world’s leading musicians. They especially appreciate the degree of intimacy built up between artist and audience, which contributes so much to Wigmore Hall's very special atmosphere.
Artists appearing in recent times have included Sir András Schiff, Dame Felicity Lott, Cecilia Bartoli, Sir Thomas Allen, Steven Isserlis, Ann Murray DBE, Matthias Goerne, Joshua Bell, Andreas Scholl, Angelika Kirchschlager, Thomas Quasthoff, Simon Keenlyside, Florestan Trio, Bernarda Fink, The Borodin Quartet, The Nash Ensemble, Ian Bostridge, Gerald Finley, The Emerson Quartet, The Academy of Ancient Music, a quartet of leading accompanists – Graham Johnson, Julius Drake, Malcolm Martineau, Roger Vignoles – and a host of others too numerous to mention.
Wigmore Hall also showcases a new generation of young artists, many of whom made their first London recital appearance on its platform. These include Alice Coote, Paul Lewis, Kate Royal, Alison Balsom, Christopher Maltman, Joyce DiDonato, Mark Padmore, Belcea Quartet, Alina Ibragimova, Elias String Quartet and Iestyn Davies.
William Lyne and the Introduction of Themed Seasons
William Lyne became Wigmore Hall's Director in 1966 and is credited with further building its reputation as one of the world’s leading recital halls.
He introduced themed seasons with the Fauré Series in 1979/80; subsequent series have been devoted to, among others, Schumann, Purcell, Bach, Ligeti, Haydn, Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams and others.
William Lyne retired, after a remarkable 37-year tenure, in 2003.
Wigmore Hall Live
To take its programming to a wider international audience, in October 2005, the Hall launched its own CD label, Wigmore Hall Live.
Offering recent and archive recitals, recorded live in the Hall’s peerless acoustic by a distinguished array of artists, Wigmore Hall Live continues to expand its much-admired catalogue.
Over the coming years the CD label will be complemented by a number of new initiatives in digital media.
The Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition
The International String Quartet Competition has come a long way since the first Competition was staged in Portsmouth in 1979. Since then, it has attracted entries from all over the world, including the USA, UK, Europe, Japan, Russian and China. Some of the world’s most famous string quartets are 'laureates' of this Competition, including the Takács, Hagen, Alexander, Shanghai, Vanbrugh, Wihan, Belcea and Endellion Quartets, amongst many others.
The Competition itself has spawned at least three others globally: in Banff, in Osaka and in Melbourne. It can safely be said that that original initiative that launched the International String Quartet Competition in 1979 has made a huge impact on the art of the string quartet over the last 25 years. The Competition moved to London in 1988, and has now found its natural home at Wigmore Hall.
The next Competition will take place between Tuesday 10 – Sunday 15 April 2018 inclusive.
The Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition
This Competition celebrates the art of the song recital and honours the Lied’s place at the heart of the genre.
Since its foundation in 1997, the Competition has grown in status and prestige, and continues to attract singers and pianists from around the world, aged 33 or under, who are keen to embark on significant recital careers.
The event, which gives young artists an important platform for public performance and the expansion of repertoire, also promotes the exchange of ideas between musicians from all over the world.
In addition, competitors enjoy an invaluable opportunity to obtain feedback and guidance from a jury of international artists of the highest calibre, and from directors of major concert halls and music festivals.
The next Competition will take place between in September 2019.
The History of Wigmore Hall Podcast
You can find out more about the history of Wigmore Hall by listening the podcast hosted by musician and broadcaster Sandy Burnett: